The Fashion of the Future

February 19, 2019 § 2 Comments

Some of the most interesting things to examine when reading or watching Science Fiction are the differences between our world and the story’s world—I’m pretty sure that everyone can agree on that much. Most of the time, people focus on the differing technology or weird/alien social customs. However, not as many people talk about a difference that, on film at least, is right in front of them: fashion.

Bear with me. I get that in worlds full of space travel, robots, and laser guns, what so-and-so is wearing feels like a second priority. But, I feel like there’s a discrepancy between the fashion trends seen throughout history and the ideas being extrapolated for SF. Particularly in women’s fashion, clothing has evolved over the years to become more and more practical. People went from wearing tailcoats and ball gowns on the regular to simple pants and shirts.

Excerpt from The Met’s illustration of women’s fashion throughout history

However, many movies have suggested that in the future, fashion will go backward. A classic example of this is The Hunger Games. In the Capitol, everyone dresses in flashy (and in all likelihood uncomfortable) clothing. The main character herself repeatedly mentions how ridiculous the fashion in the Capitol seems, but nevertheless it’s the reality. Of course, people in the Capitol are far more wealthy than people in the districts, and fashion has always been a means through which people have expressed their money. But, today that is more often done by buying expensive things with expensive logos—the pieces themselves aren’t particularly complicated. With that as both a simple and effective option, I have a hard time believing people would revert back to wearing metal crinolines or top hats.

Nevertheless, the implications of people wearing impractical outfits could be worse. As far as we’re aware, the citizens of the Capitol don’t have much to do in the way of work—or at least, we never hear of any career apart from fashion designers and politicians. So, I guess it somewhat makes sense that they’d spend their time finding more and more extreme ways to style themselves since any impracticality they impose upon themselves doesn’t have particular consequences (aside from the fact that it probably hurts).

Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket in a dress from Alexander McQueen’s autumn/winter 2012 collection

Similar fashion choices can be seen in Star Wars, particularly in the prequels. Natalie Portman’s character Padmé is a prime example of this, with her iconic throne room getup. Yes, Padmé was royalty and so the writers had to find a way to distinguish her from the commoners—fine. But, today’s world leaders pretty much wear the same things as everyone else, only much more expensive versions. The only exception I can think of off the top of my head is the Pope, but I mean he’s always dressed like that. I don’t need to see Queen Elizabeth II in an all-around headdress to know she’s the queen—her Chanel suits do just fine.

Like in The Hunger Games, we see an attempt to “futurize” the world through a completely impractical aethstetic, but history just doesn’t indicate that that’s the most likely outcome. I know that I might get a few protests about the fact that Star Wars is actually set in the past and not the future, so the idea of what history indicates doesn’t necessarily fit, but the point is about what fashion we have come to expect in futuristic societies, not whether or not the societies themselves are actually futuristic. Similarly, one could argue that because Star Wars isn’t set on Earth, I can’t expect them to have had the same evolution of fashion. I would respond by saying that while Padmé wasn’t from Earth, the writers of the films most definitely were.

Natalie Portman as Padmé for Star Wars look-book

Now, I get that SF writers and directors want the worlds in their movies to feel foreign and different and evolved. Clothing is an awesome way to do that, because all you have to do to draw conclusions about it is look at it. I have no problem with that! All I’m saying is that maybe they should make everyone wear bright white pleather, or make every naked (I get that nudity isn’t necessarily practical in terms of weather or physical protection—I’m being extreme to highlight my point). Following current trends, things should be getting more and more skin tight and less and less conservative. I’m totally fine with the idea of a protagonist who fights evil in a crop top. I’m much less fine with the idea of a protagonist who fights evil in head-to-toe fur. Even with today’s experimental avant-garde fashion like this…

…or this…

…I have a hard time believing that it will become common enough to warrant how often in shows up in movies.

Admittedly, this is in no way a trope that applies to all SF. In worlds like Firefly, those living on rural and underdeveloped planets have reverted back to wild-west couture. In shows like Altered Carbon, almost everyone still just wears jeans and t-shirts. Likewise, even in worlds with the absurd fashion I’m talking about, those who boast it are often the hyper-rich. But, it’s something that comes up enough that everyone knows what I’m talking about. So much of the focus in SF is on getting the science right, and naturally so, but what about the historic trends? I know that developing technology is all about finding new ways to do things, but the point is to improve upon the old, not to effectively go back to it. I’m very glad that I don’t live in a society where I’m still expected to wear corset, and I’d like to think that my great-great-great-granddaughter won’t have to, either.

But, what if fashion in Science Fiction is a self-fulfilling prophecy? By associating the future with over-the-top outfits, SF has done a lot to influence the current high-fashion world. If a designer wants to produce something progressive and ahead of their time, they oftentimes draw inspiration from worlds that are meant to be exactly that.

Dior’s 1999 Haut Couture Show openly admitted to drawing heavy inspiration from The Matrix, released earlier that year.

Dior’s 1999 Haut Couture Show

More recently, Kanye was accused of (or more accurately teased about) having drawn inspiration for his second collection from Star Wars. Lots of memes were made, and while Kanye denied the accusations… well, you can decide for yourself.

Kanye’s second collection in partnership with Adidas

All jokes aside, the explosion of the SF genre over the last few decades really has impacted the contemporary world. It’s fun to laugh about people walking around in Neo’s clothing when it’s confined to the runway, but it’s another thing entirely to wear it yourself. But, ridiculous fashion choices in film are easy pickings for today’s designers, and it’s slowly becoming a reality. We’re doing it to ourselves, folks, and in my opinion it’s got to stop. Or at least, it’s got to stop after we can buy Marty McFly’s self-lacing sneakers from Back to the Future (they exist) for less than $50,000 .

By Jayne Cook

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§ 2 Responses to The Fashion of the Future

  • In science fiction stories like the Time Machine or Gattica, the fashion choices/standards of the characters are meant to reflect the characters’ societies, and do not really take into account practicality or historical fashion trends. The Eloi wear robes suitable for their leisurely lifestyles; the characters in Gattica mainly wear uniform business attire symbolizing their lack of individualism (… even in space). Fashion is used as a tool for the creator of the world, and does not seem to represent predictions about the future of fashion. I had never thought about current fashion emulating science fiction, but it makes me wonder what other consumer products exist primarily because of the influence of symbolic choices in science fiction.


  • makbookpro30 says:

    Impractical aestheticism in the future is such an interesting topic! This is a little bit of a divergence from your topic, but I think it’s worth noting the ways that certain kinds of “fashion” or aesthetics don’t appear in depictions of the future. In particular, I rarely see branded clothing, even in depictions of dystopias. Things like Nike t-shirts or logo’ed sportswear don’t seem to show up too much, even as we become more and more aware that clothing cannot easily be unmade. Seems like it would operate as a nice counterpoint to the understanding of fashion in the future, and might indicate that, even as we buckle up for a climate holocaust, our cinematic dystopias rarely take a close eye to the damage we’ve already done.


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